Students from schools throughout South Carolina will converge on the Statehouse Tuesday to encourage better choices on words to use when talking about people with disabilities.
The “End the R-word” rally is organized by student leaders to tell the success stories of the Special Olympics while encouraging South Carolinians to think about how they talk about those with disabilities.
“This event is really spearheaded by inclusive-use leaders from our Unified Champion Schools who want to promote respectful language and social justice for all individuals with intellectual disabilities,” Special Olympics Vice President of Programs Barbara Oswald said.
The “R-word” is retarded. And it’s not the only word advocates for people with disabilities would like to never hear again.
“When you’re referring to someone who has special needs or a disability, we like to put the person first,” Oswald said. “So saying that individual — an ‘individual with special needs’ or ‘an individual with Down syndrome’ or ‘with autism’ instead of saying ‘disabled person.'”
So, instead of saying “disabled,” “handicapped,” or “wheelchair-bound,” Oswald recommends the use of “‘A person with physical needs’ or ‘a person with physical challenges,'” she said. “We like to refer to that individual for who they are, not necessarily what they can or cannot do.”
The event reflects the time Special Olympics has spent working with young people, encouraging those of all abilities to volunteer and participate in various community events.
Oswald said young people helped bring about the change that led to another word declining in use.
“You think about back to the Civil Rights movement and how it took new generations and new paradigms to lead the way to change language that was so common at the time but looking at terms that really do make a difference socially and in terms of respect,” she said.
The Unified Champion Schools movement is in 264 schools in 63 South Carolina districts.
Other suggestions from Special Olympics South Carolina:
• Refer to participants in Special Olympics as “Special Olympics athletes” rather than “Special Olympians” or “Special Olympic athletes.”
• Refer to individuals, persons or people with intellectual disabilities, rather than “intellectually disabled people” or “the intellectually disabled.”
• A person has intellectual disabilities, rather than is ‘”suffering from,” is “afflicted with” or is “a victim of” intellectual disabilities.
• Distinguish between adults and children with intellectual disabilities. Use adults or children, or older or younger athletes.
• A person “uses” a wheelchair, rather than is “confined” or “restricted to” a wheelchair.
• “Down syndrome” has replaced “Down’s Syndrome” and “mongoloid.”
• Refer to participants in Special Olympics as athletes.
• A person has a physical disability rather than is “crippled.”
• Do not use the adjective “unfortunate” when talking about persons with an intellectual disability. Disabling conditions do not have to be life-defining in a negative way.
• Use the word “special” with extreme care when talking about persons with intellectual disabilities. The term, if used excessively in references to Special Olympics athletes and activities, can become a cliché.